Mormons and abuse

A while back, I was talking with a very capable LDS therapist in a friendly exchange. I asked whether or not Mormons were worse at infringing on proper boundaries than those in different faiths (even the apparent faithless). My premise, was that among my sample size, usually it is the Mormons who are most willing to infringe on appropriate boundaries than the non-Mormons. I was assured, that “I just knew more Mormons on a deeper level.” This assessment made sense then (statistically), and still makes sense now.

However, there is something about institutional abuse I’ve found within Mormonism that I haven’t found elsewhere. Additionally, I’ve found more Mormons willing to rationalize, excuse, and in some cases, even promote the behavior, and this truly worries me. Now, maybe there are some who simply cannot compartmentalize the fact that prophets are fallible, and just maybe Joseph Smith was in the wrong here. If so, we’d have to discuss that with them.

Truman Madsen shared a story illustrating how Joseph Smith needed to know who was loyal to him.

On one occasion, [Joseph Smith] vigorously chastised Brigham Young – accusing the latter of something he had never done in what was clearly a harsh, cruel, unfair manner. As Brigham said, ‘Joseph, what would you have me do?’ – Smith broke down in tears and hugged him. ‘Brigham,’ he said, ‘I was testing you and you have passed.’ ”
-Truman G. Madsen
(Joseph Smith, The Prophet)

Now, while I don’t necessarily blame Truman Madsen for including this story, (he was a historian after-all), and I don’t know all the context. But today’s Mormons tell this story in order to illustrate Brigham Young’s loyalty and humility, with a subtext of “We should all be this humble.”

But this is wrong. No one should ever feel forced to accept guilt in order to be someone’s friend. (Think of that bully who told you, “I’ll beat you up if you don’t admit to taking the last cookie.”) You should not have to do “whatever is necessary to make it right” (think of that bully adviser who told you 100% of interactions were your fault, and not 50%).

If I had been Brigham, I hope would have answered, “Joseph, I have not done what you have accused me of. I accept you as a prophet, but I respect myself, and will not be treated like this. I heard a prophet of the Lord declare:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

Therefore, I will try and persuade you, in gentleness and meekness, that I have not done the things you have accused me of. I find such baseless accusations to lack kindness, love, and knowledge. I therefore reprove you for incorrectly accusing me, yet express my love. My faithfulness is stronger to thee than the cords of death, but in full honesty. I will be charitable to you, and allow you to repent and apologize. I will sustain you as a prophet, but not in actions that are untrue. THAT is what being “Honest in your dealings with your fellowmen” means to me.

So, I guess I’m going to print this out, and give it to every teacher when this story is shared.


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